Sleep apnea: Skipping CPAP may lead to more hospital visits

Do you use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device to help treat your sleep apnea? Using it regularly may help you sleep better, feel better and stay healthier. But it takes some getting used to, and many people find sleeping with CPAP a challenge.

CPAP is the standard treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes the throat to collapse during sleep, blocking the airway. A CPAP device blows a gentle stream of air through a face mask to keep the airway open. But many people find the gear uncomfortable to use, which may be one reason they stop using it.

Now, a new study suggests that sticking to a prescribed CPAP treatment plan may be more important than many people realize. It could even help you stay out of the hospital.

The study involved 345 people with obstructive sleep apnea who’d recently been in the hospital. Some of the study participants used their CPAP device regularly, and some did not. After comparing data on the two groups, here’s what researchers found:

  • Those who didn’t stick to their CPAP treatment plan had two times the odds of being readmitted to the hospital within 30 days for a cardiovascular reason. The most common problems? Atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat), myocardial ischemia (too little blood flow to the heart muscle) and heart failure. That’s not entirely surprising, according to the researchers, since untreated OSA is linked to heart and blood vessel problems.
  • Irregular CPAP users had three times the odds of returning to the hospital within 30 days for any cause. The most common non-cardiac causes of readmission were urologic problems, infections and psychiatric reasons.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Love to hate your CPAP?

For some people, a CPAP device can initially interfere with getting a good night’s rest. If you find your CPAP device difficult to use, these tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine may help. And be sure to talk with your doctor if you have questions about your CPAP treatment.

  • Get used to it gradually. First try using your CPAP for short periods during the day, such as while watching TV or reading.
  • Get a better pillow. Special pillows shaped for CPAP gear are available.
  • Check the fit. For example, if the mask is too big, you may find yourself pulling the mask straps uncomfortably tight. If air blows into your eyes, the mask may be leaking because it’s too small.
  • If the pressure feels too high, use the ramp mode on your CPAP unit. The air pressure will gradually increase after you fall asleep.
  • If you tend to forget to use your CPAP, ask someone to remind you. Or set yourself a reminder every night.

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